The Lion’s Song Review
Debuting on PC in 2016, and then on the iOS platform in 2017, The Lion’s Song from developers Mi’pu’mi Games finally brings its rich narrative gestalt to the Nintendo Switch. Following the tales of four early 20th century Austrians, its bold monochromatic look and compelling characters will win you over, even if its gameplay feels a bit too relaxing at times.
The Lion’s Song is an episodic adventure in four installments, set in pre-World War I Austria. It is not one continuous tale however, as each episode is a self-contained story centering on one character. Episode 1, “Silence,” focuses on Wilma, a precocious but self-doubting young composer struggling to complete her first major work. Episodes 2 to 4 likewise focus on individuals – a rising artist, a female mathematician, and a journalist – each working to overcome internal and external challenges in their respective careers and lives.
The Lion’s Tale
While each episode is a different story, there are common thematic and narrative threads that bind them loosely together. A recurring motif in all four tales is Inspiration – Wilma finds it in the objects that surround her in her isolated cabin as she works on her music; in Episode 2, the young Franz speaks to his models as he paints, looking for their inner essence; and Episode 3 follows Emma Recniczek as she searches for the final pieces of a mathematical puzzle while at the same time overcoming the sexist attitudes of her peers. The final installment pulls all the stories together through the conversations of 4 passengers on a train bound for the Front at the outbreak of World War I.
Narrative is The Lions’ Song’s strongest aspect, with each episode a compelling glimpse into the lives and minds of authentic, well-developed characters. Excellently-written dialogue – and some heavy-hitting themes like Freudian psychology, the personal cost of war, and gender discrimination – give this little Indie game a surprising air of literary gravitas that often reminded me of reading classic period novels. Unfortunately, at only a few hours in length, The Lion’s Song is far too brief to compete with Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, but in this short time it still packs a cerebral punch rarely seen in video games.
Adding to the classic atmosphere is The Lion’s Song’s use of a monochromatic, sepia color palette that looks a lot like watching a vintage black-and-white movie that has faded with time. The graphics are a retro, pixel style that recalls those old Sierra DOS adventure games we played in the 80s. But developers Mi’pu’mi Games make full use of the medium, with gorgeous art direction including stark cinematic angles, silhouette and selective animation. Honestly, I found that the lack of color variation began to feel melancholy and dull after a while, but I still couldn’t help but be fascinated by the way The Lion’s Song found new and creative ways to pull my eyes in with inspired and bold visual techniques.
The Lion’s Song will appear at first to be a Point-and-Click adventure, as you do often have to assist the characters by selecting items, or people to make the story proceed. However, these perfunctory actions are mostly straightforward and never approach the level of a puzzle. Your role in The Lion’s Song is more in making the dialogue choices that effect how the story unfolds, making this more of a choose-your-own-adventure game or interactive novel.
While this apparently passive role was in some ways disappointing, I did appreciate the way that my story decisions were impactful, whether it was in selecting Franz’s artistic muses, helping to catalyze Emma’s mathematical epiphanies, or just controlling the things that each character said. And those decisions affected later events – choices from one episode would be referenced in later episodes, for example, giving me the feel that I was shaping my own adventure and how it transpired. Similar to some of Telltale’s adventure games, The Lion’s Song lacks in many gameplay aspects but is mitigated by the fact that your narrative choices do matter.
To close on a more practical note, I must mention that this new Switch version of The Lion’s Song is $9.99, while the iOS version is only $6.99. There is no obvious advantage in playing the game on the Switch as opposed to on an iPad, especially since the retro visuals do not gain anything from being played on a TV-sized screen. If you have the ability to choose what platform to play this game on, I would advise that you save the $3.00 and buy the iOS version. At either price, though, The Lion’s Song is well worth it, and I definitely recommend you check this short but sweet little Indie title out.
** A Nintendo Switch game code was provided by the publisher **
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The Lion’s Song Review – Short and Sweet